Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Almassud v. Mezquital

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fifth Division

March 15, 2018

ALMASSUD
v.
MEZQUITAL. MEZQUITAL
v.
ALMASSUD.

          MCFADDEN, P. J., BRANCH and BETHEL, JJ.

          McFadden, Presiding Judge.

         These appeals arise from a final judgment entered after a jury trial. Because the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury on a substantial and vital issue presented by the pleadings and the evidence - the defendant's theory that his alleged negligence per se was unknowing and unintentional - we must reverse and remand for a new trial.

         On October 21, 2012, Abdulmohsen Almassud and Luisa Mezquital were driving motor vehicles in opposite directions on a road in Forsyth County. As they approached each other, Almassud's jeep crossed the center line and crashed into Mezquital's car. Mezquital sustained severe injuries to her hand in the collision.

          On August 28, 2014, Mezquital filed a lawsuit against Almassud, alleging, among other things, that Almassud knowingly operated the jeep on public roadways while it was unsafe, that Almassud's acts constituted negligence per se, and that his conduct proximately caused her injuries. Almassud answered the complaint, claiming that the steering of the vehicle had failed and caused the collision, that he did not knowingly operate the jeep while it was unsafe, and that Mezquital's injuries were proximately caused by the negligence of non-party Oh's Auto Center. Mezquital filed an amended complaint, adding the owner of Oh's Auto Center as a defendant.

         In the parties' consolidated pre-trial order, Mezquital's outline of the case contended, among other things, that Almassud was negligent per se because he had violated several Georgia code sections concerning operating vehicles and that such negligence per se proximately caused her injuries. In the pre-trial order, Almassud's outline of the defense asserted that the jeep was rendered uncontrollable when its steering suddenly and without warning failed; that the jeep collided with Mezquital's vehicle because Almassud was unable to steer the jeep to avoid the collision; that about a week before the collision, Oh's had installed a new steering kit on the vehicle; that Almassud had driven the jeep for approximately a week with no apparent problems; and that Oh's negligent work on the jeep resulted in the steering failure and proximately caused Mezquital's injuries.

         The case proceeded to a jury trial, at which Mezquital presented evidence, including expert testimony, supporting her claims of negligence and negligence per se against Almassud. Almassud testified that the steering on his jeep was working fine prior to the work by Oh's, that Oh's had installed the new steering kit several days before the accident, and that right before the collision his vehicle had a steering failure. He also presented expert testimony that the steering mechanism had been improperly installed and had caused a loss of steering control prior to the collision.

         Almassud's written requests for jury instructions included the following: "I charge you members of the jury that for an owner of a vehicle to be held liable for injuries that occur due to an unsafe or defective condition of his vehicle[], the plaintiff must show not only that the vehicle was [being] operated with the owner's consent, but that the owner knew of its defective or unsafe conditions." (Internal quotation marks omitted). At a jury charge conference, Almassud's attorney informed the court that the request as written could be modified, but that the jury should be instructed that "Almassud had to have knowledge of the unsafe or defective condition of the vehicle." Almassud's attorney further explained that such a charge would tie into the court's charge that a violation of the statute governing the driving of an unsafe or improperly equipped vehicle is negligent per se. Thus, counsel requested a jury charge "[t]hat there has to be some knowledge on the part of the driver that he is, in fact, operating an unsafe or defective vehicle."

         The trial judge refused the request, stating: "I'm not going to give that. I'm not going to give that alteration. The issue . . . ultimately comes down to reasonable care. You certainly can argue it, that he didn't know and had no way of knowing and that should bear on how they consider the verdict[, ] but I'm not going to add that. I think that unnecessarily complicates it."

         During its charge to the jury, the trial court instructed the jury that Mezquital contended that Almassud had violated certain statutes and that "[s]uch violations are called negligence per se which means negligence as a matter of law." The court instructed the jury on each of the statutes in question, including OCGA § 40-8-7 for driving an unsafe vehicle, OCGA § 40-6-40 (a) for operating a vehicle in the wrong lane of travel, and OCGA § 40-6-48 for failure to maintain a lane. At the conclusion of each instruction on the substance of each statute, the trial court told the jury that "[a] violation of this statute is negligence per se."

          The jury returned verdicts awarding Mezquital special and general damages totaling more than $30 million, finding Almassud wholly responsible for the damages, and awarding Mezquital $93, 884 in attorney fees. The trial court entered judgment on the verdicts. The court denied Almassud's motion for a new trial and Mezquital's motion seeking additional attorney fees beyond those awarded by the jury. Almassud appeals from the denial of his motion for a new trial and Mezquital cross-appeals, challenging the denial of her request for additional attorney fees.

         1. Refusal to charge the jury on Almassud's defense.

         Almassud contends that the trial court erred in failing to charge the jury on his defense that he had no knowledge that his vehicle was defective. We agree.

         "It is the duty of the trial court, whether requested or not, to give the jury appropriate instructions on every substantial and vital issue presented by the evidence, and on every theory of the case." Mullis v. Chaika, 118 Ga.App. 11, 18 (4) (162 S.E.2d 448) (1968) (citations and punctuation omitted). See also Gurin v. General Motors Corp., 171 Ga.App. 159, 160 (1) (318 S.E.2d 830) (1984) ("The trial court is obligated to ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.